As a teenager, I had three paper routes and I worked at a driving range. Being the secretary of labor doesn’t often involve delivering newspapers or picking up golf balls, but the skills I picked up in those early jobs – like responsibility, teamwork and problem solving – are skills I use every day.
For a lot of teenagers, a summer job offers a pathway into the workforce, and we know that having a summer job can make all the difference to someone who didn’t get the easiest start in life. There’s plenty of research showing that meaningful employment opportunities can improve job prospects and help keep kids out of the criminal justice system.
Summer and after-school jobs help young people develop what some people call “soft skills,” though I think that term is misleading. There’s nothing “soft” about leadership, teamwork, punctuality or problem-solving. Those skills are essential, and learning them early can help put young people on a path to their next move, whether it’s a job or more education.
Unfortunately, summer jobs aren’t always easy to come by for young people – especially for those who live in urban areas.
That’s why I am excited about the $20 million we announced today for the Summer Jobs and Beyond: Career Pathways for Youth competition. The Labor Department will award up to $2 million each to 10 local workforce development boards to expand existing summer jobs programs into year-round employment, career pathway and work experience programs for eligible youth. We’re focusing on young people, both in-school and out-of-school, ages 16 to 24, who have limited or no work experience.
A couple of weeks ago, I spoke with the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and I know that summer jobs programs are very important to a lot of mayors out there. We were inspired by the many summer youth employment programs in local communities, from Baltimore to Detroit to Los Angeles, that connect young people to meaningful work experiences. We want to expand and enhance programs like these to help put more young people on pathways to solid, middle-class careers.
This kind of program is what President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative is all about – closing the opportunity gaps that too often strangle hope for young people of color, helping them rise above adversity and drawing out their unique gifts and talents. In that spirit, our grant program will prioritize cities that face major challenges – such as youth unemployment, poverty and crime – and stand to benefit the most from our funding.
America works best when we field a full team, and we all succeed when everyone gets the skills they need to get in the game.